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Bates, Katharine Lee (1859 -1929)  
page: 1  2  

Breast cancer struck Coman around 1906. Metastasis was not well-understood at the time; in spite of surgeries in 1911 and 1912 the disease progressed. Bedridden from the autumn of 1914 and nursed by Bates, relatives, and friends, Coman died in January 1915.

In her grief, Bates moved into Coman's room and wrote two notable tributes to Coman and their relationship.

A private memoir distributed to Coman's family and friends (and eventually published nine decades later) described Coman's demeanor and course of treatment over her final weeks. Through coded language, necessitated by the constraint against naming the disease outright, emerges a loving portrait of courage in the face of pain and disfigurement. Literary critic Ellen Leopold characterizes it as the earliest American example of a breast cancer narrative.

Yellow Clover, a tribute in poetry to Coman, employs a formal architecture of meter and rhyme and concludes with a tightly-constructed "corona of sonnets" (a cycle of seven sets of seven poems) that plumbs the bereaved's longing to be reunited after death:

"Let us hold fast the Life Eternal!" So

You bade me, so I strive, a better lover

Than I shall be a saint. Oh, starspace rover,

Would we might stroll once more, as long ago,

Startling the bobolinks, across the glow

Of Wellesley meadows lit by yellow clover . . . .

In later years Bates gave moral support to the peace efforts of the League of Nations. After retirement in 1925 she continued to write poetry until her death on March 28, 1929.

Contemporary efforts to claim the Bates-Coman relationship as part of the lesbian cultural legacy have provoked objections because the term "lesbian" implies a sexual dimension that cannot be assumed with certainty for most nineteenth-century romantic friendships.

However, the partnership between and Coman was primary, co-residential, mutually supportive of career aspirations, and attested to--in both public and personal writings--by prolific declarations of love, a constellation of traits congruent with the ideal of egalitarian marriage favored by modern feminists.

It was clearly a companionship beyond the scope of ordinary friendship, and one that only death could part.

Ruth M. Pettis

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Bates, Katherine Lee. "For Katharine Coman's Family and Innermost Circle of Friends." Legacy 23.1 (2006): 74-85.

_____. Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1922.

Burgess, Dorothy. Dream and Deed: The Story of Katharine Lee Bates. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952.

"Katharine Lee Bates." Songwriters Hall of Fame (2002-2012):

Laden, Rich. "Katherine Lee Bates: Independent Spirit, Concern for People of All Races Were Driving Forces behind Author of 'America the Beautiful.'" Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph (July 4, 1993): A1.

Leopold, Ellen. "My Soul is Among Lions: Katharine Lee Bates' Account of the Illness and Death of Katharine Coman." Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies 23.1 (2006): 60-73. Also in Ellen Leopold. Legacy 23.1 (2006): 60-73.

Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Katharine Lee Bates: Writings." Women's History (2008):

Palmieri, Patricia A. "Here Was Fellowship: A Social Portrait of Academic Women at Wellesley College, 1895-1920." History of Education Quarterly 23.2 (Summer 1983): 195-214.

Schwarz, Judith. "Yellow Clover: Katharine Lee Bates and Katharine Coman." Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies 4.1 (Spring 1979): 59–67.

Vaughn, Gerald F. "Katharine Coman: America's First Woman Institutional Economist and a Champion of Education for Citizenship." Journal of Economic Issues 38.4 (December 2004): 989-1002.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pettis, Ruth M.  
    Entry Title: Bates, Katharine Lee  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2012  
    Date Last Updated November 26, 2012  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2012 glbtq, Inc.  


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